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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Science of Weight Loss

I felt like popping a champagne bottle while visiting the nurse who had been monitoring me for the past two years. This monthly weigh-in revealed my lowest weight ever, just over 14 stone or 200lbs. This was quite a contrast to the 19+ stone (270lbs) I was at when I first walked into her office in May, 2009. That is a loss of a little more than 70lb.
If you compare the differences between these two photos, you'll see what I mean.


In the first photo, taken with my wife and daughter, was how I looked in Spring, 2009. Because of my obesity, I was close to becoming diabetic, not to mention the high risk of heart attack. Climbing a flight of stairs always left me puffing, gasping for air.
The second shows how I look at present:


For a clearer comparison, I have included this snapshot too, taken at the same time as the one above:


I shall leave it for the reader to decide whether two years of a changed lifestyle had made an impact on my physical appearance, and maybe how vain I had became!

According to the latest statistics, obesity is one of our major health problems. Of the latest world data available, the country with the highest rate of obesity among its population is the United States, with 30.6% being overweight. That is nearly one third of the entire U.S. population. Next is Mexico, with 24.2%. Third - yes, it has to be the United Kingdom, with 23% of its population, or nearly a quarter, being overweight. So the UK lies in the top three for highest obesity rates.
On the other hand, the much-maligned Italians (of whom I am one) are often stereotyped as being the chubby, opera singing and spaghetti-scoffing Venetian gondola paddler who pinch Cornetto ice cream cones from his customers. Yet the Italians scored a modest 8.5% of its population for obesity, which places Italy in 25th position. In fact, according to these available statistics, Italy came third from bottom, which is shared by both Japan and South Korea in joint 28th position, each having just 3.2% obese. The average obesity rate is 14.1%, the closest coming to this being Canada, in 11th place with 14.3% obese.
The above statistics apply for both genders. The UK comes 1st among the men being obese with 22.1% of the British male population being overweight. Japanese males are the least obese, with just 3.4%.
Among women, the UK comes second after Slovakia, with 22.8% British women being overweight, down on Slovakia's 25.4%. Again, Japan scores only 3.8% of its female population as being overweight.
So according to the given statistics, the ratio between male and female obesity in all cases are roughly equal.
In my personal weight loss experience, constant monitoring has indicated a more rapid weight loss during the summer months, while during winter I tend to put on weight. January of 2011 was particular bad, gaining six pounds between Christmas and the start of February. Those pounds were shed by March which made me relieved to be back on track.
Personal weight loss and gain seem to correlate with outside temperatures, but the above statistics seem to indicate that temperature has little to do with it. For example, Canada has colder winters than both the UK and the USA. But it's obesity rate is less than half of that of the USA and 8.7% less than the UK.
So my conclusion, endorsed by the nurse, is that lifestyle is what determines a persons's weight.
While visiting the Kerith Centre (a local church) a couple of weeks ago, a longstanding friend gasped at my weight loss appearance, having not seen me for a period of time. Chubby in physique, he complained that he goes out for a five-mile run twice a week, but his appearance remains stubbornly chubby. He is not the only one.
After all, I believe it's the British way of life, particularly at the dining table, that has much to do with either weight loss or retention. If our restaurant trade reflect our culinary habits, it would not be that surprising. Looking at the desserts menu, one can pick out lashings of ice cream, chocolate gateau and cream, apple pie and custard, or cheesecake. These desserts have a sky-high calorie count, and they are consumed each day in a typical home, along with packets of sugary biscuits (cookies). Little wonder Britain comes third in the obesity chart.
In Italy, which came a modest 25th, ice cream (gelato) is an occasional treat, not a dessert following a meal. Yet the Italians are famed for pasta consumption.
In fact pasta, whether it be Spaghetti Bolognese, Ravioli, diverse shapes or Macaroni, it's a starter at the Italian table. Pasta is then followed by the main course, often steak or fish with salad. Then the meal is finished with fresh fruit. Desserts are virtually unknown.
Pasta (without the Bolognese) actually has very little fat content. A typical meal has about 1.5 grammes of fat, while it has a much higher carbohydrate quota of nearly 66 grammes. Even protein in it is higher than fat, with just over 11 grammes.
Part of my new lifestyle is the consumption of cottage cheese. This is most likely the "Curds and Whey" of nursery rhyme fame. I normally have it in brown bread, often toasted. Two of its nutritional values are the protein casein which is recommended by both dietitians and body builders alike. The other is a high level of Calcium, which is not only responsible for strong teeth and bones, but combined with a healthy level of Vitamin D, it slows down fat storage in the body.

Cottage Cheese

Earlier this year, an experiment was carried out by Professor Ame Astrup of the Nutrition Department of the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University at Coperhagan. A group of men were put on a carefully prepared diet which included consumption of cottage cheese, with calcium levels peaking at 2,000 mg for a week. Results showed a higher level of fat in the stools. When the candidates had the cheese withdrawn and the calcium level reduced to 500 mg, there was significantly less fat in the stools.
A healthy level of cholecalciferol, or Vitamin D, is essential for the Calcium to block the absorption of fatty matter into the bloodstream. Because the main source of Vitamin D is from sunlight, we Brits suffer a disadvantage with our climate, particularly in the winter.
Therefore, food with a level of this vitamin include egg yolk, oily fish (sardines, herring, tuna, salmon), liver, margarine and fortified breakfast cereals, the latter normally have five micro-grammes of the vitamin.
So by personal experience and its end result would be:
Breakfast - Cereal fortified with vitamins, especially cholecalciferol, toast with cottage cheese, tea or coffee without sugar or just one teaspoon.
Lunch: double toasted cottage cheese sandwich with fresh fruit, tea or coffee.
Evening: Pasta with bolognese made with half-fat sausages or similar. Fresh fruit. A mug of tea without sugar.
Snack at other times. Cottage cheese or marmite toasted sandwich I find delicious. Low-fat fruit yogurt is good, so is an apple. I tend not to buy oranges or other citrus fruits because, to tell the truth, I find peeling off the rind irritating to the finger nails, and the size of the fruit is much smaller than it was when first spotted at the supermarket shelf!
Therefore, in addition to cottage cheese, I drink every morning a glass of pure grapefruit juice. Not from concentrates, but straight from the crushed fruit. The advantage with this is that it comes with the original fruit bits in the juice.
But whichever diet style one may find most suitable, one should never go for hours without eating. Hunger will turn someone to raid the larder and find the foods with the highest calorie content most appealing. Also hunger causes the body to go into emergency mode, and would more likely store up fat to preserve its resources.

But regulating what I eat is only one half of the story. The other is intense exercise. Visits to the gym at Coral Reef Waterworld in my home town of Bracknell has become a regular habit, along with going out for a run, normally with a partner. Here we both agree that talking while running help take our minds off the exercise.
But for me it's the gym that I find more beneficial. There I use the arc cross trainer, a rather new-fangled gadget related to the elliptical cross trainer, but gives a more challenging workout.

The Arc Cross Trainer

I must admit, working out on this machine is very tedious, especially if it's for a full 60 minutes. But with the wall television playing the music of Magic Radio, this greatly helps the time go by.
So what is the benefit I achieve in such an exercise? Generally it is mainly an aerobic, fat and carbohydrate consuming exercise which resembles a skiing motion with which I can burn up to 1,030 Kilo-calories on a good day.
To get an idea of this exercise, I would like to look at the science this workout involves, and how it relates to weight loss. It involves three energy creating systems which kick in as soon as I start riding the machine.
When I mount the machine and begin riding, I set the resistance to cardio level, which means much energy is spent keeping the machine in motion. For the first few seconds, my body remains in the "at rest" condition. This is the anaerobic stage, the first of the three systems, which means that the energy source on which the muscles need to contract in exercise must be immediately available. The energy is gotten by the breakdown of Adonesine Triphosphate (ATP) to Adonesine Diphosphate (ADP). The availability of ATP is absolutely necessary for the release of energy to enable the muscle to move in the first place. When at rest, the ATP resource remains constant, allowing us to move about and carry on with our businesses as usual.
But after about 15-20 seconds of intense exercise on the cross-trainer, I begin to gasp for air, the heartbeat accelerates, and this stage is the same as when I sprinted as a child, I'll get puffed out, often with a burning sensation at the throat. It is at this stage that the ATP resource runs out, and the remaining ADP is reconverted to ATP to conserve supply, else the muscles would freeze up.
At this stage the second of the three systems in the body kicks in. This is known as the anaerobic glycolysis system with its by-product, lactic acid. What happens here is that ATP is produced with a fast-action call on the sugar reserve, or glucose. Up to the present the exercise was anaerobic, which means that above-level requirements of oxygen was not needed.
But the reserve of ATP in the muscles is very small, and after a few seconds of exercise, I start gasping, as this source of energy for muscle contraction is exhausted. This is when the main fat and carbohydrate burning system starts to kick in, the aerobic system which demands extra oxygen. After a further few seconds my breathing settles, the heart beats fast to get this extra oxygen to the muscles to created the energy needed to continue with the exercise.
Why have I gone into this detail, even if much simplified, science of physiology?
I believe, according to my own experience, that after sprinting as a child in the school playground, the "puffed out" stage meant the end of the exercise, when actually I could have carried on. I guess the throat burning sensation was what I found demoralising. If only I knew something about aerobics back then!
I have seen other people use the machine, or the elliptical that was at the gym before the arc was installed, and I wonder whether the gentler, less resistant use of the machine was the "cautious" attempt to keep the aerobic energy creating system as minimal as possible in fear of "hitting the wall" long before the duration of the exercise had been met.
But as I found by experience, one can keep on exercising under heavy resistance for what believe to be a heck of a long time, but not feel to worse for wear as the extra oxygen supply, along with fat and carbohydrate resources keep the energy supply burning up those calories.
But this does not come overnight. One must train by starting short and light and gradually work up in both duration and resistance. It takes time and patience. No one can just get on this trainer and knock up a full hour on a high resistance. It took me over a year to get to the stage I'm now at.
But once this stage in training has been achieved, it is a joy to see these excess pounds come off.

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